Economic and Social Problems of Freedmen

How successful was reconstruction in dealing with the economic and social problems of freedmen?

The end of the Civil War and the Reconstruction of the South
attempted to address some of the social concerns of the freed slaves
but in reality could do very little to make blacks economically and
politically equal to whites. In fact, there was never any intention
of making blacks equal. The results of slavery and lingering racism
were devastating.

I. Reconstruction

A. What economic problems did newly freed slaves face?

1. They had no education and could not read or write
as a result of the Slave Codes.

2. Job opportunities were extremely limited.

3. Often the only skills a freed slave had was in farming and even
then they usually only knew how to do the manual labor, not the
actual running of a farm.

4. Freed slaves had no money, clothing, etc.

B. What types of jobs did freedmen take?

1. Sharecropping – Many freed slaves remained on their
plantations and worked as sharecroppers. In this arrangement
landowners (former plantation owners) also had no money to hire
workers so what they would do is allow a freed slave to work the land
and give a portion of the harvest to the landowner. The portion was
usually quite high and it was difficult for the freeman to save
enough to to sell on his own. In theory a sharecropper could save
enough money to buy some mules and eventually rent the land but this
was rare.

2. Tenant Farming – Some sharecroppers actually made enough to
begin renting the land. This was known as tenant farming. Certainly
this was better than ‘cropping but they still struggled to make ends

C. Who do you think they could turn to find some relief from this
emotional burden??

1. growth of black Methodist and Baptist Churches –
had Evangelical roots. Used spiritual song and gospel; they were the
forerunner of Southern Baptist churches. AME – African Methodist
Episcopal Church sent missionaries to the south immediately after the
war. Membership increased from 70,000 to 390,000.

D. What needed to be done to help blacks reenter society?

1. Freedmen’s Bureau – created as a part of the
Reconstruction Act, it was a Federal agency designed to provide food,
clothes and shelter for freed slaves and whites in need.

2. Education – black and white school teachers came south and
began to teach the freed slaves. Booker T. Washington said “It was
a whole race going to school. Few were too young and none were too

E. How successful was reconstruction in creating real economic

1. Not very much. many called sharecropping and tenant
farming economic slavery because it still kept freedmen subservient
to whites and at their whim.

F. What would be the ultimate level of achievement for a freedman?

1.. Election to the government – sixteen blacks
elected to Congress, 2 senators and 14 reps. Hiram Revels, a Senator,
took Jefferson Davis’ spot from Mississippi the other Senator from
Mississippi was also black, a former slave who has escaped from
Virginia before the war – Blanche Bruce.

Senator Hiram Revels

G. How do you think most southerners reacted to reconstruction?

1. Supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and
the Knights of the White Camelia were formed . Some originally warned
blacks not to vote, then turned violent.

H. How did groups like the Klan effect reconstruction?

1. Southerners may have had to live with blacks but
they sure didn’t like it and they sure were not going to treat them
as equals. What came to exist in the south was a segregated society,
or one where the races are separated. This was not originally law
(though it later came to be) and is thus referred to as de facto
or segregation by the fact that it exists.

This cartoon by the famous Thomas Nast was published in Harper’s
Weekly in 1874. It shows how white supremacist groups like the Ku
Klux Klan worked to keep freed slaves in politically and economically
deprived conditions. Look at the inscriptions at the top of the
cartoon. It says “The Union As It Was” and “This Is A White Man’s
Government.” The KKK wanted to keep Blacks out of government and
prevent them from voting.